Fortieth birthday party, celebration and gift ideas. Happy 40th Birthday!

Fortieth Birthday in London

by Sophie J Henderson

I wasn't sure what to do for my 40th. I wanted to mark the occasion in some way but I wanted all the family to be involved and it was hard to think of something my husband, our children and I would all enjoy. In the end, after a lot of discussion, we decided to spend a few days in London at half-term, which luckily fell the week after my birthday. Less expensive than going abroad and still a stimulating change from our everyday life in Northampton.

Celebrate your 40th birthday in LondonWe stayed at a nice bed & breakfast in Edgware, which was handy for the underground and quiet enough that we could get good nights' sleep - although we were so busy in London that insomnia was never a problem!

Matt, my husband, was insistent that we make the trip a special time for me. For all of us too but not just another family holiday. When he turned 40, the children were younger and not so easy to travel with and we left them with my sister for a week and went hiking in the Alps. For Matt, this was a time of reflection and after it he made a few subtle but important changes to his lifestyle, such as bringing less work home. We're all happier as a result and he's right that a 40th birthday is a good time to take a long, hard look at whether your life is as you want it to be.

With this in mind, he booked me into a class (a one-off, three-hour mini-course) at The School of Life in Bloomsbury. I had never heard of this organisation before but I really enjoyed the evening and have since been back to a couple more sessions on different subjects. How to worry less about money, how to have better conversations, how to be confident... you can learn about all sorts of things and, while of course it won't change your life at one stroke, you may find these little courses give you insights and ideas that will help you shift your thinking. This was an inspired 40th birthday present, which has opened up a whole new interest for me as I will continue to attend sessions at the School every so often.

Other highlights of my 40th birthday trip to London were:

Les Misérables. This phenomenal musical has been part of my life for twenty years or more. It's an amazing show and it was lovely to experience it again (third time) with my family. The children loved it, I'm happy to say, and completely understood why it's so special to me.

The London Eye. This is a great way to see some stunning views of London.

The Magic Cavern. A wonderful magic show in a tiny theatre in Barons Court, where the whole audience is practically on the stage. The magician was very friendly and not at all the arrogant type you often see on the telly. He asked James and Molly to help with a trick and they're still talking about it. Although the show is suitable for kids of 5 and over, it's not a children's magic show. The tricks were incredible and Matt and I enjoyed it every bit as much as our offspring.

Waterbus canal cruise. A lovely trip along the Regents Canal, between Camden Lock and Little Venice, stopping at the zoo.

London Zoo. We're a pretty urban family and we enjoyed the feeling of getting close to nature and exotic wildlife of the zoo. The penguins were a particular hit!

Camden Market. A fun place to browse. Loads of different stalls and little shops, selling clothes, jewellery, incense, ornaments, throws, Goth gear, vintage/retro stuff... and a variety of international food in cheap and convenient cartons.

Something else I would recommend if you're in London without children is to see a performance at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Matt and I have been there twice now and very much enjoyed it both times. There's a great atmosphere and the acting is of such quality that every word and nuance is clear and understandable, even if you're not familiar with the play.

Celebrating my 40th birthday in London was a good decision and I have fond memories of it. Some advance planning and booking can save you a lot of money, so I advise that you don't just set off in a spontaneous way, but there is so much to see and do in London that you can make everyone happy whoever you're with and pretty much whatever your budget. Enjoy!

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Useful links to help you plan your trip

Discount Theatre - Efficient, secure online booking for all London theatres. Good prices and availability.

False Impressions - Magic and illusion shows for all the family, at a variety of intimate venues around London.

London Waterbus - A convenient way to travel and/or a relaxing way to see London from a different angle.

London Zoo - Observe and learn about world wildlife.

Time Out London - Suggestions for days out, things to see and do, where to eat and sleep.

Red Letter Days London experiences - All sort of exciting / relaxing / cultural things to do in London.

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